Tile Polishing

KOAN:

During the Kaiyuan era (713-741)* an ascetic named Daoyi
was dwelling in the Chuan Fa Temple; all day he sat meditating.
Nanyue Huairang knew that he was a vessel of Dharma, and went
to question him; “Great Worthy, what are you aiming at by
sitting meditation?”
Ma replied, “I aim to become a Buddha.”
Nanyue then took a tile and began to rub it on a rock in front of the
hermitage; Ma asked him what he was doing rubbing the tile.
Nanyue said, “I am polishing it to make a mirror.”
Ma said, “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”
Nanyue said, “Granted that rubbing a tile will not make a mirror, how can sitting
meditation make a Buddha?”
Ma asked, “Then what would be right?”
Nanyue said, “It is like the case of an ox pulling a cart: if the cart does not go, would it be right to hit the cart, or would it be right to hit the ox?”
Ma didn’t reply.
Nanyue went on to say, “Do you think you are practicing sitting meditation, or do you think you are practicing sitting Buddhahood? If you are practicing sitting meditation, meditation is not sitting or lying. If you are practicing sitting Buddhahood, ‘Buddha’ is not a fixed form. In the midst of transitory things,
one should neither grasp nor reject. If you keep the Buddha seated, this is murdering the Buddha; if you cling to the form of sitting, this is not attaining its inner principle.”
Ma heard this teaching as if he was drinking ambrosia. He
bowed and asked, “How shall I concentrate so as to merge with
formless absorption?”
Nanyue said, “Your study of the teaching of the mind ground is like planting seeds; my expounding the essence of reality may be likened to the moisture from the sky. Circumstances are meet for you, so you shall see the Way.”
Ma also asked, “If the Way is not color or form, how can I see
it?”
Nanyue said, “The reality eye of the mind ground can see the Way. Formless absorption is also like this.”
Ma asked, “Is there becoming and decay, or not?”
Jang said, “If one sees the Way as becoming and decaying, compounding and scattering, that is not really seeing the Way. Listen to my verse:
Mind ground contains various seeds;
When there is moisture, all of them sprout.
The flower of absorption has no form;
What decays and what becomes?
Ma heard this and his understanding was opened up. His heart and mind were transcendent. He served his master for ten years, day by day going deeper into the inner sanctum.

*This meeting probably took place in the mid 730’s. Nanyue Huairang (the foremost student of Huineng) had six adept pupils, but he said it was Mazu who realized his “heart.”